The winter wonders of pomegranate


As holiday talk builds to a festive pitch and the cold darkness moves to embrace you, don’t sleep on pomegranate season. It’s ready to sneak back into your life.

With a fresh pomegranate in your palm, you have magic at your fingertips. Just wave your hand and food becomes more beautiful, more delicious and more exciting. Toss those juicy rubies on salad, soup, steak, pasta, Brazilian black-bean soup, granola or yogurt. The flavor added by the fleshy seed packages, called arils, matches the color: sharp and sweet.

The arils can also be used as the substance of a meal, the same way one would use rice or pasta: a plate of fried arils with eggs on top, for example, or a bowl of arils and salad.

To the uninitiated, it won’t be obvious how to extract the arils. There are many ways, and some are messier than others. Treating the globes like softball-sized pinatas might not seem like the cleanest option, but if you slice them in half and tap gently enough, the seeds rush out like Black Friday shoppers storming the gates of Walmart.

This technique comes from Turkey, where one fall day, a food writer named Robyn Eckhardt sat down with a group of women, 100 kilograms of fresh pomegranates and some pieces of plastic pipe. They spent the day liberating the arils inside.

Here is Eckhardt’s technique that she recently emailed from Italy:

“Gently squeeze one pomegranate half, cut-side down, over a wide, deep bowl to loosen the seeds. Place it cut-side down in your nondominant hand. Spread your fingers to create a ‘sieve’ through which the seeds can fall. With the handle of a wooden spoon or spatula, tap the pomegranate all over. Dislodged seeds will fall, with the juices, into the bowl, and the bits of bitter, white membrane will remain in your hand. Continue tapping, turning the pomegranate in your hand, until most of the seeds are dislodged. If any white membrane has fallen into the bowl, pick it out. Strain the seeds from the juice. You can reserve the juice for another use.”

The first time I tried this method, my open hand was powerless to stop the flow of arils, but I at least had a bowl to catch them.

That day, Eckhardt and her friends were preparing nar eksisi, or Turkish pomegranate molasses. When made with 100% pomegranate juice and no additives, she said, it has as delicate and eye-opening of a flavor as a fine balsamic vinegar. Among brands that an American could easily order online, Eckhardt’s favorite is Mymoune, produced by a women’s agricultural cooperative in Lebanon.

Pure pomegranate syrup is worth paying good money for, Eckhardt said. It keeps forever and is versatile far beyond salad dressings. If you can’t get the good stuff, though, you might want to skip it.

There is a recipe in Eckhardt’s book, “Istanbul & Beyond: Exploring the Diverse Cuisines of Turkey,” that calls for both the arils and the syrup. Sun Dried Tomato and Pomegranate Salad comes from a restaurant in Turkey owned by Eckhardt’s friend Shiraz Demir, a pomegranate and olive farmer.

The salad is an exciting ride, with many strong personalities balancing one another in spectacular fashion. Each bite is a different drama, with spice, fat, herbs and salty chunks of cheese, all splashed with tangy pomegranate juice. It will brighten any table at any time of year.

Sun Dried Tomato and Pomegranate Salad

Eckhardt lays out this salad in a layered, eye-catching way. For simplicity, I prefer to mix the ingredients in a bowl. She was gracious enough to let me make a few minor tweaks, which I’ve made as parenthetical suggestions. The salad is forgiving, and you can alter the proportions widely to suit your taste.

Serves six to eight as a meze or four as a side dish

  • 20 sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 medium pomegranate, cut
  • in half horizontally
  • 1 spicy green chili, such as jalapeno
  • or Anaheim, sliced (In winter, I
  • prefer chili flakes, such as Aleppo)
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint or flat-leaf
  • parsley, chopped finely1/4 cup
  • lightly salty white cheese, such
  • as Bulgarian feta
  • 1/4 cup fruity olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon pomegranate
  • molasses (If you can get the pure stuff. Otherwise, use lemon juice)

Soak the sun-dried tomatoes in warm water until soft and pliable, about 10 to 20 minutes.

While the tomatoes are soaking, seed the pomegranate.

Drain the sun-dried tomatoes and pat them dry, then slice them into quarter-inch-wide strips.

Arrange the tomato strips on a small plate and top with pepper slices (or chili flakes). Sprinkle the mint or parsley over the plate, then the crumbled cheese and pomegranate seeds. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and pomegranate molasses and serve immediately.


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